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Independent Heroes: BMS Car Sales, Durham

So you’re thinking about getting your next car. You’ve found two you like, one offered by a dealer and another by an enthusiast.

Both types of seller have their advantages, but what you really want is a dealer who is also an enthusiast. That’s what you get when you go to BMS Car Sales.

William Hall, the owner of BMS, has been selling cars for more than 30 years. But beyond the business he’s also a keen enthusiast. In the garage at the rear of his dealership he pulls back a protective tarpaulin to reveal a 1966 Ford Mustang coupe in immaculate condition. The 5.2-litre V8 engine has a dual straight pipe exhaust and when he starts it up you can feel the vibrations resonating in your chest.

The Mustang highlights the market niche BMS is looking to fill.

“We specialise in sports, performance and four-wheel drive vehicles,” said Hall. “We don’t sell volume cars, we’re just a bit different to a regular dealership.”

He carries on to explain a little more about the business. “We’ve got a very strong internet presence. We don’t get much passing trade. We sell about 70% of our stock online, we’ve sold cars to people in London, Aberdeen, all over the country.

Our customers aren’t worried about travelling 300, 400 miles.” Located in Durham, north-east England, Hall said buyers sometimes travel by train or plane to visit the dealership and try their chosen car, or to pick up their new purchase and drive it home.

In cases where that’s not possible, the cars are shipped to their new owner.

BMS Car Sales has been at the current site for about eight years. It’s a considerable step up from the first location, where the showroom was in an old school. The stock was priced between £1,000 and £1,500 and there were about 10 cars to choose from. That has changed quite considerably, said Hall: “If someone is looking for a convertible we don’t have one or two to choose from, we have maybe 15 examples. That’s the specialty side of the business.”

BMS price matches every competing dealer within a 200-mile radius to ensure the dealership has the best prices on the internet. Hall said that while a small number of vehicles have some negotiation room built into the price, the business generally works on a fixed-price strategy. Between that and the five-star ratings BMS has received on Auto Trader, he said people know the vehicle is being sold at a fair price.

Every vehicle sold by BMS has a 12-month MOT and the vehicle gets a comprehensive service. “We don’t sell cars with advisories,” said Hall, “so if the tyres are marginal we’ll put on a new set.” While BMS doesn’t have a service area, the cars are worked on at a certified Bosch service centre next door to the dealership.

The cars get a warranty for parts and labour from BMS, while customers can also purchase extended products. “We get a discount from our warranty partner and we’ll hand that discount over to the customer. It’s a comprehensive warranty – other companies offer products for £30 but they’re not worth the paper they’re written on.”

He explained that more people are coming into the dealership with financing in hand. “There are more people coming in with financing they’ve arranged on the internet. But they don’t know about our financing with Close Brothers, they come in not understanding they can get their financing at a  better rate with Close.” He said that the bespoke products offers allow his customers to finance the specialist cars that BMS stock.

Hall goes into his extended history with the finance company, explaining that prior to working at Close Brothers his account manager was at another company. “I switched to Close Brothers when [Close Brothers account manager] Christine moved over,” he said. “That was about 20 years ago and I’ve been with them ever since. A lot of finance companies you speak with, they have no idea who you are. With Close, you’ve got two or three key contacts who know who you are before you even pick up the phone.”

He added that Close Brothers will work hard to get loan approval for a customer. The team will take a look at the numbers instead of relying on a computer, see what needs to be done to get the deal arranged, whether that is a small increase in the deposit or a longer term. Close Brothers offers BMS some competitive rates and Hall said the dealership hands those rates over to the customer. The competitive rates can reflect in lower monthly payments, in turn can helping to secure the sale.

In addition to that, he said the customer interaction with Close Brothers is quite smooth. “Most customers visit our website first and look at their finance options. After a customer picks a car they can use the finance calculator on the site to work out a deal, see what deposit they need and the monthly payment.  Once that is completed they can submit the proposal.”

He added that that the final paperwork is straightforward, making for a good customer experience. “If there’s any problems, we’ve got great support from the staff at Close Brothers in York. We know them, we’re friends with them,” he said

Hall said that he buys most of his inventory from the Lloyd Motor Group, which operates dealerships across a series of premium car brands including BMW, Mini, Jaguar, Land Rover, Volvo and Honda. The cars are usually ex-lease, part-exchange models, between four and five years old. While this offers great quality stock, he is concerned about the increasing values of used vehicles. “The prices are mad!” he said. “While vehicle prices have gone up, the cost of advertising online has also steadily gone up. “Those costs mean our margins are getting thinner, but you have to keep prices low to get people interested.

We specialise within a range of makes and models, so that helps to keep our buyers interested and our margins healthy.”

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